By RICK STROUD, ROGER MILLS
Published August 7, 2004
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Defensive end Corey Smith is not afraid to travel if it means helping his career. He spent the spring helping the Berlin Thunder to a World Bowl title in NFL Europe.
Smith might be on the move again.
After Thursday's special-teams workout, Smith took some reps at tight end and received some special instruction on route running from coach Jon Gruden.
"I'm not saying we're going to do it." Gruden said. "I just wanted to see him do something there. I was hoping no one saw that. He's a great kid. He works, he's in the mix, he's making it as a defensive end. But I'm looking under every rock just to see if there's some redeeming quality that we're missing, that's all."
Smith's workout doesn't mean Gruden is unhappy with the play of the tight ends. Then again, it's not a ringing endorsement, either.
"They've done some things good, some things we've got to improve at," Gruden said. "We're just waiting for somebody to jump out in the left lane and separate, that's all. I'm not being disrespectful to them. They're working hard, they're doing some good things, but we're waiting for someone to distinguish themselves."
Smith distinguished himself as a productive pass rusher, finishing fourth in NFL Europe with 7.5 sacks. Though he hasn't played offense since high school, he is flattered by the assignment.
"I don't know, I'm kind of mixed right now because I've been working on my pass rush and everything," Smith said. "I mean, whereever the team needs me and anything to get a job, you know what I mean?"
Of course, Gruden is not afraid to use his entire roster on offense. Last season defensive tackle Warren Sapp caught passes - including a touchdown at Atlanta - and Anthony McFarland played tight end on short-yardage downs.
Playing tight end would only help Smith's chances of making the 53-man roster.
"He's juiced up, man. I don't know if he can work for ( Rod) Marinelli in Period 1 and then come and run routes," Gruden said. "We've got to kind of watch that. But he's a great kid. He's such a good special-teams player, he's such a good kid. And sometimes, the more you can do. ... especially when you're young. I just want to help him if I can help him. It'll be his call if we ever consider it. But we might just take him out and just let him get a feel for the other side, a half a day or so."
RULES OF THE GAME: Referee Jerry Austin and a crew of NFL officials started their weekend visit with the Bucs.
The purpose is to make coaches and players aware of several rules changes, including unsportsmanlike conduct for end-zone celebrations that include a foreign object, instant-replay challenges and the spotting of the ball after a fair-catch signal.
But the obvious change in the game fans will see is the enforcement of the illegal-contact rule. Currently, defensive players have 5 yards in which they can make contact with a potential receiver, but the NFL has been soft in its enforcement.
But because the league had its worst scoring output since 1994 last season, the competition committee wants the rule to be a "point of emphasis' for officials this season.
That's likely to result in more penalties and longer games.
When asked if the edict is in response to the AFC Championship Game last season, Austin referred to the points provided to him by the league.
"One question you may get is, "Is this the result of the New England-Indianapolis Championship Game' " Austin said as he read from the league's prepared responses. "The answer is, "No.' "
"I think what it actually is in response to is that scoring was down last year."
PEP RALLY: The resounding cheer that came from the huddle at the end of afternoon practice wasn't Gruden giving the team a day off. It was the latest effort from the coaching staff to try to rally the team, this time the special-teams unit.
"Everybody has been talking about the offense and the defense, and (special-teams coach Rich) Bisaccia was talking about the "we-fense," Gruden said. "They get excited about that coach. It's an inside joke."
The Bucs spent the afternoon session working on special-teams situations such as onside kicks and taking a safety. Gruden said he is determined to find the best group to play special teams and create a bit of mystique along the way.
"When you get into special teams, you might hear stories about a player who might not really want to be on specials teams," Gruden said. "He wants to be the linebacker, he wants to be the starting receiver. We're going to use offensive and defensive players on special teams. We're going to use 11 guys who can get the job done. The best 11 we can get. So, instead of calling it offense or defense, we just refer to it as we-fense. We're trying to get something going. Trying to establish a tradition."
BACK IN THE MIX: Left tackle Derrick Deese returned to action after missing most of the week with a bone spur in the foot.
One of the new additions to the offensive line, Deese said he needed to get back on the field as quickly as possible to work on building continuity on the line.
"I'm a new guy in a new system," Deese said. "That's more important than anything else. The physical thing will come, no matter what. When you play in the league long enough, you learn to handle the situation. But it's important for the offensive line to be together as much as possible."
Having been out since the first day in pads, Deese said he was eager to get back to the pounding.
"You can't really train for hitting," Deese said. "You can't even train for the kind of weather we have down here. Even if you work out in it every day, when you get to hitting and things like that, the heat becomes a different factor at that point."
TIME TO STEP UP: Entering the second week of camp and with the preseason opener against the Bengals six days away, the coaching staff challenged some of the new players to make a name for themselves.
"It's hard to see exactly where you are until you start playing the preseason games, but I'd like to see some of our newcomers pick it up and make a move," Gruden said. "We've got too many people slashed (on the depth chart) and we don't have anybody ahead of anybody. We've got a lot of guys even in the horse race. We need to start seeing some men step up and separate from the pack."
CLAYTON HOBBLED: Receiver Michael Clayton hurt his chest in a downfield collision during the morning session and was held out of the afternoon session.
"He landed awkwardly with a defensive back and got tangled with his arm and could not protect himself from the fall," Gruden said. "He will be day to day. He's sore right now, and hopefully a day or so will help him."
INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end Ellis Wyms sprained an ankle and will be out a couple of days, though the team doesn't think it's serious. "Knowing him, he might practice (today)," Gruden said. Left tackle Todd Steussie left practice with swelling and soreness in the back of his knee and is listed as day to day. Guard Sean Mahan returned to limited drills and receiver Joey Galloway took part in half of the practice to rest his legs.